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"Canuta", a female otorongo remains in Las Leyendas zoo, in Lima on April 21, 2012. "Canuta" and "Zamba", her twin sister, were born in captivity a year ago in the zoo, and were elected as symbol for the Earth Day. Otorongo is an Amazonian species and it is about to be considered in risk of extiction.
MIAMI (AP) — The 8-year-old twins love their iPad. They draw, play games and expand their vocabulary. Their family's teenagers also like the hand-held computer tablets, too, but the clan's elders show no interest.
The orangutans at Miami's Jungle Island apparently are just like people when it comes to technology. The park is one of several zoos experimenting with computers and apes, letting its six orangutans use an iPad to communicate and as part of a mental stimulus program. Linda Jacobs, who oversees the program, hopes the devices will eventually help bridge the gap between humans and the endangered apes.
Linda Jacobs touches an orangutan at Jungle Island in Miami.
"Our young ones pick up on it. They understand it. It's like, 'Oh I get this,'" Jacobs said. "Our two older ones, they just are not interested. I think they just figure, 'I've gotten along just fine in this world without this communication-skill here and the iPad, and I don't need a computer.'"
Jacobs said she began letting the orangutans use iPads last summer, based on the suggestion of someone who had used the devices with dolphins. The software was originally designed for humans with autism and the screen displays pictures of various objects. A trainer then names one of the objects, and the ape presses the corresponding button.
Linda Jacobs uses an iPad as she works with an orangutan at Jungle Island in Miami.
"We're able to really monitor their health on a daily basis," Jacobs said of the need for communication with the orangutans. "We can do daily checks. If somebody's not feeling well, we know it immediately."
After being told a word, an orangutan points to that object on an iPad at Jungle Island in Miami.
Orangutans are extremely intelligent but limited by their physical inability to talk, she said.
"They are sort of trapped in those bodies," Jacobs said. "They have the intelligence that they need to communicate, but they don't have the right equipment, because they don't have voice boxes or vocal cords. So this gives them a way to let us know what they know, what they are capable of, what they would like to have."
An orangutan works with an iPad at Jungle Island in Miami.
When it comes to orangutans, the iPad itself has limitations. First, the relatively small screen causes orangutans to hit the wrong buttons sometimes. Also, the touchscreen won't register if they try to use their fingernails. Most importantly, the devices are just too fragile to actually hand over to the apes — the trainers must hold them.
Jenna Hogg gave an orangutan a series of hand signals, he returned the gesture at Jungel Island in Miami.
"If I gave them the iPad, I could just basically hand them $600 and say, 'Go have fun,'" Jacobs said. "So until we come up with a better screen or a better case, I'm going to hold onto the iPad."
If Jacobs gets her way, a more secure interface might not be far off. The long-term plan is to set up a larger, orangutan-proof screen in the holding area, along with another screen outside for guests. They would ask the orangutans questions and the apes could respond.
Cat 'Luca' sleeps in his basket as a waitress serves some food to customers in Vienna's first cat cafe May 7, 2012. After three years of negotiations with city officials over hygiene issues, Austria opened its first cat cafe last week. 'Cafe Neko', "Neko" meaning cat in Japanese, was opened by Vienna resident Takako Ishimitsu, 47, from Japan. Customers can stroke and interact with their five feline hosts, named Sonja, Thomas, Moritz, Luca and Momo, who all came from an animal shelter and now freely roam about the cafe and take naps.
AFP PHOTO/ FAR EAST RUSSIA ORCA PROJECT/ E.LAZAREVA
A picture released on April 23, 2012 shows the fin of an albino killer whale nicknamed Iceberg travelling in a pod of 13 orcas near Bering island in the Commander islands in Russia. A team of Russian scientists say they will embark on a quest next week to observe the only all-white, adult killer whale ever spotted - a majestic and elusive bull they have named Iceberg.
AFP PHOTO/PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL
A Thai buddhist monk talks on a radio while walking past tigers at a tiger buddhist temple in Karnchanaburi province western of Thailand on April 24, 2012. Thailand is one of just 13 countries hosting fragile tiger populations and is a hub of international smuggling. Worldwide, numbers are estimated to have fallen to only 3,200 tigers from approximately 100,000 a century ago.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Tilly, an orphaned baby wallaby, relaxes inside a rucksack at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo on April 30, 2012 in Dunstable, England. Tilly is being hand-reared by keepers at the zoo using a rucksack and blanket as a substitute marsupium until she can become more self-sufficient after being found outside of her mother's pouch one month ago.